It seemed appealing on the surface: big-name music act plays intimate club at dirt-cheap ticket price. But a bargain is rarely a bargain, and the trade-offs for everyone who turned out for this gig were abundant, particularly for those of us who pride ourselves on marking the eternally hard-to-define line between art and commerce.
So this is what we had: Big Corporate Beer Co. rents out the House of Blues; hires Snoop Dogg to play for a fee that, given Snoop's stature, cannot be loose change; and plasters the room with banners, signs and videos depicting young, clear-skinned America imbibing joyously in their brand. Tickets go on sale just three days before the show, and it's inevitable they'll move quickly–the day of the on-sale, the beer company's full-page newspaper ads are already announcing a sellout. As for ticket prices, the face value is listed at a buck each, though this is jacked to $7 per after the Ticketmaster markup. So the beer people win in several ways: they get their brand tied in with a high-profile artist; they get to be perceived as populist supporters of sexy/dangerous/hip/cool/street music; and they have a captive market of drinkers for several hours, since the House of Blues–which offers many varieties of brew on any other night–has arranged it so the sponsoring beer is the only beer available.
This advertising barrage made it difficult to see the hip-hop show. But it was far from the Most Frustrating Aspect of the Night. That award goes to the guy onstage, Snoop Dogg himself.
Snoop apparently wasn't obligated to hoist a beer during his show nor to speak (or worse, rap) its praises. It would have been a marketing disaster if he had: everyone knows Snoop's favorite cocktail is gin and juice, anyway, or Tanqueray and chronic (or was–until he allegedly gave up pot, which, if true, likely made him more appealing to the kind of marketers who drafted him for this gig, his history of glaring misogyny and legal hassles notwithstanding).
No, no overt pitching. Snoop was there to just rattle off the hits (most from his decade-old Doggystyle debut), get the kids worked up for 90 minutes and collect a paycheck.
We felt bad for him, really. Snoop was once the world's most famous/infamous hip-hopper, the Last of the Red Hot Gangstas, made all that much more romantic by his mid-'90s murder trial and acquittal (yo, Dogg don't just talk it–he lives it!). Doggystyle sold zillions, but the fickle rap universe has largely bypassed him in favor of fresher thugs such as Eminem and 50 Cent. Snoop wasn't helped by lame, formulaic albums and exploitive Death Row Snoop compilations over which he had no control.
But this night, the crowd bought into the legend. They screamed for "Murder Was the Case," and they got it. They hollered for "Gin and Juice," and Snoop mixed and poured. He rapped about pimpin' and hustlin' and bangin'. And the little wiggas swallowed it down, along with stinging clichs: "Everyone say, 'Fuck the police!'" commanded Snoop. "Wave yo' hands in the air, and wave 'em like ya just don't care!"
Was Snoop mocking us?
There was also a loving remembrance of 2Pac (standard for any mainstream hip-hop show these days, really); a shout-out to Magic Johnson, up on the VIP level; and cameos from Warren G and Nate Dogg, who probably don't have much to do these days, anyway.
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The best part wasn't Snoop at all, but his backing band, the Snoopadelics, who spent the non-prerecorded parts of the set indulging in sweet '70s soul/R&B grooves. The guitarist worked a wah-wah pedal, the keyboard guy went off into a Roger Troutman routine, and Snoop gave everyone–the drummer, the horn guys, the guitarists, the conga player–solo spots, and it felt good to watch these players extend themselves because the more time they spent jamming, the less time Snoop had to get us finger-flipping nameless entities; coaxing the straight and queer men in the crowd to yell, "We want some pussy!"; or singing along on a song whose entire lyric consisted of "Smoke weed/Get drunk/And fuck."
Like everyone else, we once liked Snoop. But this night, he was just another pitchman, not just a pitcher of beer, but of his upcoming new album and MTV show. He has become the Ozzy Osbourne of rap, a clownish celebrity who failed to live up to his once-white-hot potential, who got rich and fat and is now reduced to doing corporate gigs for hefty paydays.
As the show slouched to an end and Snoop Dogg led the room in a chant of "Who Am I (What's My Name)?"–his first hit–we so badly wanted to yell out, "You're Calvin Broadus!" Because if he could just start over, he might eventually matter again.